Racism in Othello
Othello, by William Shakespeare, is a tragedy that tells that story of what happens to a man named Othello after he marries a woman named Desdemona. Othello is a black man, known throughout the play as a Moor and he marries the daughter of a white Venetian Senator. One of the most critical themes of the play is race. While racism is a reoccurring theme throughout the play, the play itself is not racist. The main character is a black man and the evil villain is white. Shakespeare does not dumb down Othello just because he is black, but rather he portrays Othello as a well-liked, high ranking officer in the Venetian military. During the time that Shakespeare wrote ...view middle of the document...
When Iago goes to tell Desdemona’s father, Brabantio, that his daughter has married Othello, he says,
Even now, now, very now, an old black ram
Is tupping your white ewe. Arise, arise;
Awake the snorting citizens with the bell,
Or else the devil will make a gransire of you,
Arise I say! (I.i.9)
At this time in the play, Iago is plotting to get back at Othello. He is obsessed with the fact that Othello married a white lady. Iago believes the union is against nature, which is the same mindset of many people during that time. He even says to Othello,
“Ay, there's the point: as--to be bold with you--
Not to affect many proposed matches
Of her own clime, complexion, and degree,
Whereto we see in all things nature tends--
Foh! One may smell in such a will most rank,
Foul disproportion thoughts unnatural.
But pardon me; I do not in position
Distinctly speak of her; though I may fear
Her will, recoiling to her better judgment,
May fall to match you with her country forms
And happily repent” (III.iii.244-253).
Iago is basically telling Othello that Desdemona turned down all the young suitors who were from her own country and who were white. He says that she went against her nature in marrying Othello. He calls her lust for Othello rank and he warns Othello that Desdemona might leave him for a white man from Italy. Iago feeds on the fact that Othello is a black man as the reason for his wife maybe leaving him one day. He mocks and pokes fun at Desdemona’s and Othello’s relationship by comparing them to animals.
Throughout the entire play, Iago rarely calls Othello by his name. He calls him “the Moor,” “the devil,” and once he even calls Othello “a Barbary horse.” They all give off the impression that Iago thinks that Othello is a lesser human. Other members of the Venetian society do not agree with how Iago views Othello. Since Othello is a high ranking officer in the military he is invaluable to the Venetian society. The members of the court like Othello and they call him the “valiant moor” (I.iii.47).
Even when Brabanzio brings Othello before the court to accuse him of using dishonest means to win Desdemona’s heart, the duke and senators are on Othello’s side. They say that the accusations against Othello are “thin habits, and poor likelihoods” (I.iii.108). The duke even says to Brabanzio that “If virtue no delighted beauty lack / Your son-in-law is far more fair than black” (I.i.290). The duke is basically telling Brabanzio that Othello is a good man, and he should not be judged based on his color.
Shakespeare does not portray Othello as a lesser person just because he is black. Othello was born into African royalty and he chose to leave his life of privilege to become a soldier and fight. He even says, “I fetch my life and being/From men of royal siege” (III.iii. 21-22). He has chosen to serve the Venetian government and he proves himself to be a great soldier and a wonderful leader. His...